Getty Research Institute


With its comprehensive library dedicated to the history of art and related fields of research, its vast special collections of rare and unique materials, its internationally acclaimed Scholars Program, and its pioneering research projects and publications, the Getty Research Institute (GRI) is many things, but above all it is a lively laboratory and “think tank” for the study of the diverse histories of the visual arts and related disciplines across a wide range of cultures. The GRI’s strategy of responding to the latest technological developments, to changing scholarly needs, and to new areas of study makes it a vibrant, fluid forum for advancing innovative research and creating shareable research data and digitized resources.

In order to sustain its ongoing contribution to the field of art historical research, the GRI continues to assemble strong and unique collections, one of its core activities. Among the greatest challenges related to building collections is that of processing and cataloguing them in a timely manner, so that they can be shared with the GRI’s constantly growing international communities of users, both on-site and online. During the last year, the GRI reached important milestones with regard to two major archives acquired in recent years, which are now available for study by researchers from all over the world.

This year the GRI finished processing the two largest archives that it has acquired up to now, making them available for research; both archives are already being heavily used. Together totaling more than 4,000 linear feet and featuring a wide variety of archival materials, the vast archive of the Swiss curator and scholar Harald Szeemann and the records of the Knoedler Gallery are notable not only for their size and art historical significance, but also because of the GRI’s innovative approach to processing and cataloguing them in collaboration with researchers with collection-specific expertise.

The Harald Szeemann Archive and Library is an essential resource for the study of twentieth-century art and art history. Perhaps the most famous curator of the Western post–World War II era, Szeemann was an ardent advocate of modern and contemporary art, from Dada, surrealism, and futurism to conceptualism, postminimalism, performance art, and new forms of installation and video art. The Knoedler Gallery Archive illuminates the business relationships and records of one of America’s oldest and most preeminent art galleries. Founded before the establishment of most museums in this country, Knoedler & Company played a central role as a conduit for the masterworks that established the first great American museum collections.

With partial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), more than twenty people helped process and catalogue these huge archives over a period of four years. In addition to archivists, cataloguers, library assistants, and interns, both the Szeemann and Knoedler teams also included art historians as integral members. The teams furthermore participated in GRI research projects focused on those collections. Processing priorities were established with input from scholars, ensuring early access to the most significant materials in each archive, and the processing teams engaged directly with research teams and scholars during specially organized workshops and throughout the cataloguing process. During the Szeemann workshop held in June 2014, participants presented their own research from the archive and gave important feedback and advice about the related upcoming Szeemann exhibition, public programming, and publications, as well as how the archival processing could most effectively move forward.

In the Knoedler workshop discussions, during which informed decisions were made regarding how this huge dealer archive should be processed, digitization was identified as a key element in providing the broadest and most meaningful access to these unique primary source materials. Processing was carefully planned to facilitate digitization of significant portions of the Knoedler archive, which in turn provided critical data for the new stock book database within the Getty Provenance Index®, the heart of the GRI research project dedicated to the Knoedler records.

Notable Acquisitions

This was a year of significant acquisitions and donations within a number of the GRI’s core collecting areas. A suite of forty-seven albumen prints featuring panoramic and detailed views of the Roman ruins in Palmyra, Syria, constitutes rare and extremely valuable visual documentation of this world heritage site. These are the earliest photographs of the site, which has recently suffered considerable damage at the hands of ISIS soldiers, and thus are ever more valuable as research documents for archaeologists and scholars of the history of photography and of the Middle East. A GRI project is currently underway to create an online exhibition of the photographs to share with the international research community.

Unpublished materials such as artists’ letters, project files, and installation photographs, which are included in the archives of artists, gallerists, curators, and collectors housed in GRI special collections, provide the essential raw materials for much original research. This year’s acquisitions in that realm include the archive of photographer Lewis Baltz, donated by the artist, who was a key figure in the New Topographics movement of the late 1970s; artist Harmony Hammond’s papers charting the development of feminist, queer, and lesbian visual culture in the United States; the Steven Leiber Basement records, which are the archive of a pioneering dealer in the postwar avant-garde; and the archive of curator, critic, and publisher Willoughby Sharp, famous among other reasons for conceptualizing Avalanche, a unique media phenomenon that combined aspects of a magazine, an artist’s book, and an exhibition space.

The GRI also acquired two significant print collections during the last year. The Norberto Gramaccini print collection, a gift supported by the GRI Council, includes more than 1,500 reproductive prints from the collection of this highly influential Swiss collector and professor. These images disseminated and interpreted important works by French, Italian, Dutch, and Flemish artists before the advent of photography revolutionized the way in which images of artworks are circulated.

Etching of person holding head in handSelf Portrait, 1921, Käthe Kollwitz. Etching (only recorded impression of this state). Dr. Richard A. Simms collection. (GRI)The Dr. Richard A. Simms Collection comprises 628 works on paper, 510 prints, and 118 drawings, among them a treasure trove of etchings, woodcuts, lithographs, and drawings by Käthe Kollwitz, the first woman elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts, as well as works by significant artists in her orbit—Max Klinger, Emil Nolde, Otto Greiner, Ludwig Meidner, and George Grosz. The collection, amassed and partially donated by the founding chair of the GRI Council, Richard Simms, is recognized in both North America and Europe as one of the most important resources for the study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century German art.

A Record-Breaking Exhibition on Chinese Buddhist Art

In collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), the GRI mounted the ambitious exhibition Cave Temples of Dunhuang, Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road, which focused on an extraordinary site in northwestern China that has survived almost intact from medieval China. The exhibition documents the history of the site through the cultures that passed through it and left behind works of art and a wealth of documents, making this unique experience available to an audience halfway around the world a millennium later. Featuring important loans from major museums in London and Paris, three astoundingly beautiful replica caves made by the artists of the Dunhuang Academy, and a 3-D experience that immerses visitors in the Buddhist imagery of the caves, it set the all-time attendance record for a GRI exhibition, with many visitors coming from China. Related programs, all booked to capacity, included an international symposium of curators and scholars who are experts in Buddhist art, numerous daily tours and class visits, musical programs, storytelling for children, and scholarly lectures by experts on Dunhuang and the Silk Road.

Digital Art History

In order to meet the changing methodologies and needs of researchers, one of the GRI’s main goals in the past year has been not only to share its resources with researchers worldwide by making them accessible in digital form, but also to actively shape the discourse about challenges, best practices, and necessary future steps that accompanies the burgeoning field of digital art history.

In December 2015, the GRI’s Digital Art History program reached a major milestone with the release of the first publicly available version of the Getty Scholars’ Workspace™, an online research environment intended to facilitate collaborative humanities research. This web-based digital toolset allows research teams to share, analyze, and annotate digitized versions of primary source materials, historical texts, and works of art; to build bibliographies; to translate and annotate texts; to write their own texts; to create timelines; and to capture the scholarly exchange of ideas and multiple perspectives that characterize humanities research in general and the discipline of art history in particular. The version released in 2015 features a highly intuitive user interface design, the capability to download research project materials, a digital light table for image comparisons, a timeline module, a bibliography import-export function, and the ability to export the entire content of research conducted within the workspace. Two digital publications, one produced by the GRI and the other produced by the Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA) of France, have already resulted from research projects conducted in an early, pre-public-release version of the Scholars’ Workspace. The GRI publication Pietro Mellini’s Inventory in Verse, 1681 received an American Alliance of Museums Media and Technology MUSE award in the Open Culture category.

The Getty Scholars’ Workspace is an open-source software environment that is freely available under the GNU General Public License to any research team or institution that wants to use it. The tool is web-based, which means that team members working on a research project in the workspace can access all project materials at anytime from anywhere in the world. A key design feature of the workspace is its ability to accommodate the multiple points of view (rather than a single “right answer”) essential to humanities research. With the Getty Scholars’ Workspace, the GRI has found an innovative way to fulfill its mission of transforming the discipline of art history in the digital age and to freely share data and images related to rare and unique materials by providing a unique environment for research, critical inquiry, and scholarly exchange.

The Getty Research Portal™, a free online search platform initiated by the GRI, marked its fourth anniversary in June 2016 with a milestone in contributed volumes and a newly redesigned and greatly enhanced user interface. The Portal, which provides access to digitized art history texts in partnership with some of the world’s leading art libraries, now offers more than 100,000 volumes to its users. The project was launched in 2012 with a group of eight international contributors and has grown to include more than twenty institutions at present, bringing together a rich collection of digitized publications devoted to art, architecture, material culture, and related fields. New contributors to the Portal include the Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, the Bibliotheca Hertziana — Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte in Rome, the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, the Menil Collection Library in Houston, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Library and Archives in New York, and the Warburg Institute Library in London.

In order to make it easier for scholars and researchers to explore the rare books, foundational art historical literature, exhibition catalogues, periodicals,

and other published materials that the Portal aggregates, the site was redesigned and rebuilt by the GRI’s software development team. Improvements include more refined filtering of search results, a responsive design for better use on smartphones and tablets, and clearly highlighted additions from participating institutions. In addition, the GRI has also increased its capacity for scanning texts from the Getty Research Library collection, more than doubling its productivity in digitizing titles over the past year and bringing the number of GRI volumes in the Portal to more than 35,000. As of this writing, the GRI’s digitized books have been viewed more than thirteen million times by users from around the globe.

The GRI also actively participates in the Getty Trust’s Open Content Program, which provides unrestricted access to high-resolution images of materials from the Getty Museum and the GRI. About 860 digitized images from the GRI’s Wim Swaan photograph collection were recently added to the Open Content Program, thus making them available for anyone to download and use for any purpose.

A photographer and practicing architect, Photo of Taj Majal in mist, black and white.Taj Mahal in Ä€gra, India, ca. 1968, Wim Swaan. Wim Swaan photograph collection, 1951–1995. Gift of the Willem A. Swaan Estate. Digital image courtesy the Getty Open Content Program. (GRI)Wim Swaan illustrated eighteen books on the art and architecture of cultures around the world. The GRI digitization project focused on architectural photographs from three of Swaan’s non-Western book projects: Lost Cities of Asia: Ceylon, Pagan, Angkor (1966), Morocco: Marrakesh, Fez, Rabat (1967), and Cities of Mughul India: Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri (1968). The photographs, shot on black-and-white and color film stocks, document the cities and sites as they looked in the mid to late 1960s. Although Swaan’s color photographs are bright and eye-catching, as with his close-ups of Moroccan tile work, it is his black-and-white photographs that showcase his talent for composition and technical skill. The recent digitization project begins to make highlights from this collection much more widely accessible to anyone with Internet access, helping to fulfill the GRI’s goal of keeping pace with the research needs of the global art historical scholarly community.